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A ramble through the fascinating geography of China’s largest city.
A great success story? Yes, but Shanghai also has challenges ahead and after we’ve had a look at the urban morphology of this megacity, we will examine some of the problems being faced by the Planners. First, lets look at the site and situation and a brief history of Shanghai’s development.
China – the big country. 1.3 billion pop. Beijing,the capital of China trails Shanghai in population terms (Shanghai has about 20 million). Fourth largest country in the world, you could fit 39 UKs within its boundaries.
A glance at the relief of the country reveals where most of the population is to be found.
The coastal plain and its constituent valleys contain over 90% of the total population.
Shanghai may be growing fast but it has been overtaken by India’s movers and shakers. A megacity is a city of over 10 million people. Hypercity has been suggested as a term for cities over 20 million.
Shanghai cannot be examined in total isolation. Its position is enhanced by the huge hinterland of the Yangtze Valley.
It is easy to pick out the city, airports, steel works on this satellite image.
I’ve flown into both airports which has given me a view of the Greater Shanghai area. The New Towns dominate the landscape.
Anting (安亭), site of the Shanghai Volkswagen plant in northwestern Shanghai’s Jiading district, is known as the center of the Chinese automotive industry. Less well known, however, is Anting New Town, a German-themed residential development that popped up in 2005 as part of Shanghai’s One City, Nine Towns plan to relieve housing pressures in the city center. The Anting New Town development was designed by Albert Speer, the son of Hitler’s favorite architect, to accommodate 50,000 inhabitants in apartment buildings and stand-alone houses. While the town has remained largely vacant, it's worth the long metro ride just to see what was being attempted.
Lu Xinshe, deputy head of the ministry of land and resources, said the country was struggling to hold the 120 million hectare "red line" considered the minimum land areas needed for food self-sufficiency.With industrialisation and urbanisation eating into the countryside, he said the government would halt plans to restore arable land to nature.
Flying into Pudong presents one with this bucolic landscape. Untramelled and timeless. It doesn’t look like a frontier but it is.
Empty housing is immediately flattened in Shanghai to prevent squatters from taking over.
The usual push pull factors apply.
In 2010, Shanghai took the top spot in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)‘s international rankings for reading, maths and science in state schools.
Shanghai started life as a small fishing village around 5000BC. The name means “on or above the sea”. The original location was on the left bank of the Huangpu River, just to the south of the bund.
Hutu became Shanghai during the northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1126) and developed into a prosperous seaport. In 1436 China adopted an isolationist policy and Shanghai declined rapidly. In 1553 City Walls had to be built as defenses against marauding Japanese pirates. It was the relocation of the province’s customs authority which signaled the development of the city we know as Shanghai.
During the early years of the 20th C Shanghai entered the dawn of what would be remembered as a Golden Age, when its excesses and contradictions would ascend to a crescendo as it basked in the limelight of its international reputation for flamboyant affluence, cosmopolitan sophistication and cultural ferment. A million people were living in the city by 1910. The fragmentation of legal authority made things easy for the criminal underworld. This was a capitalist city on fire. By the 1930s the pop had tripled to 3 million.Only war could tame this runaway urbanisation – and it did. On July 7th, 1937, the long awaited Japanese invasion of China began. 40,000 Japanese soldiers and 250,000 Chinese lost their lives in the battle for the city. In December 1941, the Japanese completed their occupation of the international concessions, unopposed.
Japan surrendered in in August 1945 but for China another four years of conflict lay ahead. An uncertain fate awaited the city in the New China….
It would be fair to say that Shanghai didn’t exactly thrive throughout the early communist regime. Yet Shanghai is now seen as the home of communism. Successive political campaigns dismantled what remained of the city’s business culture and for the next 40 years its physical infrastructure slowly decayed, as investment was directed elsewhere.
It was years before the full extent of the damage wreaked by the Great Leap Forward came to light.
The Cultural Revolution was another disaster for Shanghai. Untold murders and suicides and 80,000 homes up in flames. Stability did not come until the death of Mao Zedung eventually led to Deng Xiaoping taking over the reins. Deng, the moderniser, saved the day – but it was a close run thing.
Pudong was known as the wrong side of the Huangpu River until it was granted Special Economic Zone Status in 1990. Three iconic towers present you with a view as good as the pollution allows. The towers have to be visited but Pudong does look better from a distance.
The Bund is a promenade of elegant, late 19th C colonial buildings on the western bank of the Huangpu River.The local saying “All roads lead to the bund”, certainly seems to be true.The Bund Centre building is hard to miss because of its “magnificent” lotus crown. Grotesque. Still it could have been worse. Rumour has it that the original design had the building topped by a giant Buddha.The bar at the top though is brilliant!
The main shopping street in Shanghai – Nanjing Dong Lu – cheap and cheerful.
This McDonald’s is in the old town next to the Yu Gardens.
By the turn of the 20th century, the bund had become the richest and most prosperous part of Shanghai and had some of Asia’s grandest buildings. “The Wall Street of Asia”. “The Paris of the Orient”. “The Whore of the East”.This is the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (left) and the Old Custom House on the right.
Three “Bank of China”s in a row. The China Textiles Export Corporation is on the right.
Pudong in the morning. (The view from our hotel room.)
The landmark towers.
Yan’an Dong Lu tunnel in 2009 – before it was officially opened.
It will be interesting to see the rise in transport related energy consumption which will inevitably occur as Shanghai embraces the automobile.
The administrative buildings are , well, boring. People’s Park and People’s Square did have an interesting history however. The admin centre of Shanghai was built on the the site of the “Canidrome” – a dog-racing track with a capacity of 50,000 spectators which was built in the French Concession.
The highlight for me though, was the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, which I don’t have an outside picture of, but I do have a few pictures from inside which I’ve liberally sprinkled throughout this presentation.
The big car firms jostle for position around People’s Square.
Austrian architect, CH Gonda built the beautiful Cathay Theatre in 1931.
It is still used as a cinema today.
Shikumen isan architectural style for residential buildings in Shanghai, China combining Western and Chinese elements that first appeared in the 1860s.This is a reconstruction in Xintiandi – a classic example of development combined with restoration. A success.
Old Shanghai still exists but you have to know where to look. All the old wells in central Shanghai have either been capped or are padlocked.
Taikang Lu Art Street is a gentrified longdang or alleyway.Taikang Lu has historically been difficult to find and is still as of 2009 largely hidden from the neighbouring streets, as it grew from the inside of the block outward, although there are now shops on Taikang Lu itself. Historically Lane #248 was a key entrance that, in order to gain access to the commercially developed area, required walking about 50m through whilst be surrounded by local residents' life, including bicycles, hanging laundry, etc. until finally emerging in the 'new' area.
The security guard at the entrance though gives the location away. (Toilet story) “Have you ever noticed anything strange about Chinese WCs?”
Back in 2009, adverts for the 2010 Expo were everywhere.
We decided to go and have a look at the (building) site from the LupuBridge. Lupu Bridge -- the second longest arch bridge in the world (longest is now in Chongqing) -- gets its name from the two districts it connects: Luwan and Pudong. At the time of its completion in 2003, it was actually the longest in the world. The Lupu Bridge Climb -- actually it's called the "Shanghai Climb" -- is one of Shanghai's better tourists destinations, as for an 80rmb fee, visitors can climb the 300 plus stairs on the arch of the bridge to a viewing platform at the top. It's one of Shanghai's better, more interestingly achieved views, and you're afforded a panorama, 360-degree scene of the city for your trouble. It's open daily from 8:30am to 5pm. The Shanghai Climb is closes when the weather's not good.
The Chinese Pavilion was one of the few buildings to be kept at the end of the 2010 Expo.
It is hoped that the Pavilion will become a major tourist attraction.
The British Pavilion was this rather interesting glass construction which was designed as a seed archive. I’ve added in the last picture as a nod to Sir Clive Sinclair. See, he should have put a hood on it.
The one thing that you can say about Shanghai is that it is still going up.
High rise demands a completely new life style.
The new overtakes the old in central Shanghai.
I wanted to visit one or two of the new towns. I failed to blag my way into the Baoshan steel works (Baosteel) so instead we jumped on the train and headed off to Songjiang.
So, where is this?
Place is an interesting concept.
So, we got off the train at Songjiang University Station….. Wrong station… should have gone to the end of the lion. Taxi story.
Not lived in. How do you know.
One business seems to be thriving – wedding photography.
A bit like a film set?
All about fashion.
The dresses are hired.
Double income, no kids.
The residential part of Thamestown is much more successful. Gated communities are very popular.
The rest of Songjiang is positively plain by comparison.
The basic unit of residential housing is the alleyway called a lilong. "Li" means neighborhoods, "Long" means lanes. These two words combine to describe an urban housing form which characterizes the city of Shanghai. Indissociable from the growth of Shanghai from 1840s to 1949, lilong settlements still comprise the majority of housing stock in the city center today. Inherited traditional dwelling patterns prevailing in the southeast China, profound transformation due to drastic social changes during that era produced lilong housing. Though, these transformations were demonstrated by the evolution of lilong's house forms, the settlement's general organization pattern persisted. Lilong settlement, as a low-rise, ground-related housing pattern, has many advantageous features: hierarchical spatial organization network, separation of public and private zones, high degree of safety control, strong sense of neighbourly interaction and social cohesiveness, and so on. These factors make the lilong neighborhoods a pleasant place to live and hence they are loved by local populace.
The powers that be have decided that the “villages” as they are called have to go. Central Shanghai is now full of gap sites. This village was scheduled for demolition back in 2009.
Internal migration within China has been at least partially regulated by the hukou – a household registration system. This system prior to 1980, worked to effectively immobilize the Chinese population. Despite the substantial relaxation of the system since 1980, having the right hukou still makes a huge difference, in everything from the education of children and access to medical services to employment opportunities.
Migrant workers often live on site in canvas constructions such as these.
Some inspired thinking about the buildings that people need is taking place – but too little too late.
The reality is somewhat different. Informal settlement reaching upwards in Shanghai.
The problem in the past was growth. The problem now is support and sustainability.
The number of over 60s is set to rise dramatically in the next 40 years.2005 - 144million 2035 - 393 million 2050 438 million
The centre of Shanghai dropped nearly 2 metres in places over the course of the last century due to subsidence.
This led to several problems. Flooding of these low lying areas was the worst.
Navigation problems was another.
Levees had to be reinforced.
And the navigation system had to be protected.
A series of mini Thames barriers protects the creeks from the influx of high tides.
The problem of subsidence was caused by ground water extraction. Water is now pumped back into the ground to prevent further subsidence.
The problem now is compression caused by the weight of the ever increasing numbers of high-rise buildings being built.
A major, obvious problem is atmospheric pollution.
The land of the bicycle is on the wane. And pollution is on the rise.
The largest economies cause the greatest pollution.
China’s industry is dominated by the electronics industry but steel and coal come close behind.
The car industry especially is being encouraged.
The 1990s saw a plethora of automobile companies being established in China. Baolong Motors, Chery Automobile, Dadi Auto, Geely Automobile Global, Quingling Motors, Polarsun etc.
Visual pollution abounds. JAWS are everywhere – Jumbo Abrasive Wall Signs – of course.
It is difficult to work out what they are hiding in places.
Crisis? What crisis? This is one of the most impressive V-shaped recoveries in history. In 2007 a container back from China cost nearly £10,000. In 2009 the same container could be hired for £2,000.
Christmas. On its way as we speak. From China with love.
In many ways, China is flying a kite. A precarious but satisfying task. Very much at the mercy of economic winds, I hope that China keeps her kite flying for a long, long time.